Gregory, 49, fell in love with the Metro Vancouver area while on a holiday during Expo ’86.
“I loved the mountains and the ocean and Whistler. It was just so beautiful,” he says. “I knew I would come back one day. I’ve been a drifter all my life.”
But it wasn’t until his mother died in 1999 that he decided to make the permanent move from his home of Newfoundland and Labrador to the West Coast.
Working as a labourer in Nova Scotia for $6.25 an hour wasn’t paying the bills and a failed relationship had depleted much of his savings, so a new start seemed right.
With the construction boom in B.C. in full swing, Gregory easily found work as a labourer and eventually as a foreman for a drainage company. He was able to obtain his safety and traffic control tickets, certifications that would enhance his employment options.
Over time, Gregory developed neck and back injuries that would require surgery and recovery time. About a year ago, he settled in Whalley, as the housing costs were more affordable than the rest of the Lower Mainland.
While off work on disability, he was placed in a government program that allowed him to earn small amounts of money to supplement his $610 cheque. He took a job unloading freezer trucks in Richmond, and while he working alone inside one of the trucks, a 70-kilogram (150-lb) pallet fell on him, striking him in the head. No injury report was ever filed.
“Here I was fighting for job site safety all these years, and no one was fighting for me,” Gregory says.
Diagnosed with a severe concussion and numbness in his face and hands, he began living on a diet of painkillers. With few people sympathetic to his plight, he contemplated taking his own life.
“I honestly felt suicide was my only option,” he says. “I was behind on my rent and I had to be out in two days. I was desperate.”
That’s when he contacted Hyland House in Newton, an emergency shelter run by Options Community Services Society.
“Two support workers showed up at my apartment. They said ‘we’ve got you a room.’ I almost cried.”
With WorkSafeBC now monitoring his condition, Gregory is looking for an apartment and getting the help he needs.
“I want to work. I want back in the game.”
NO FIXED ADDRESS: Read the other stories in this Leader special report: